Parliamentary initiative seeks to help Egyptians overcome cost of marriage

If approved by parliament, the bill would offer men and women who want to get married $3,400 each in loans free of interest.
Sunday 04/03/2018
Costly endeavour. A bride and groom (C) are showered with money as they dance during a wedding in the Egyptian Nile Delta province of Monufia.     (AFP)
Costly endeavour. A bride and groom (C) are showered with money as they dance during a wedding in the Egyptian Nile Delta province of Monufia. (AFP)

CAIRO - Millions of Egyptians are eagerly watching the progress of a parliamentary bill that, if enacted, could help them overcome financial problems that often stand in the way of marriage.

The bill would give newly married couples interest-free loans, something that would help more Egyptians get married in a culture where, in addition to the celebrations, a groom is expected to pay for housing, furniture, appliances and gifts of gold to the bride.

The loan, the legislators proposing the bill said, would be repaid over 12.5 years after the marriage.

“We believe this will end financial problems facing marriage for millions of people,” said MP Mohamed Atta Selim, the author of the bill. “The loan will make marriage a lot easier.”

Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics said marriage rates have decreased and many observers attributed that to financial pressures.

“Marriage costs are becoming so high with the rise in the prices of commodities,” said Samia Khedr, a sociology professor at Ain Shams University. “Together with the presence of many men and women who are not employed, these costs are a major impediment to marriage.”

The national unemployment rate dropped to 11.9% from 12.6% a year ago but issues such as rising housing costs and inflation mean that many Egyptians are finding it difficult to get married.

Mohamed Hassan, 42, said he has been incapable of meeting the financial requirements to marry. “I really want to get married but this is almost impossible,” Hassan said.

A civil servant with a salary of $142 per month, Hassan can just about afford to pay for transportation, food and clothes for himself. Buying an apartment or furniture is far outside of his budget.

To make marriage easier, some villages, especially in the Egyptian countryside, are seeking to change traditional marriage customs, particularly in relation to the shabka, the giving of jewellery to the bride.

Some village elders are absolving potential grooms of purchasing engagement jewellery. Others are requiring the brides’ families to give equal amounts towards the couple’s furniture and electrical appliances, even though a fatwa from al-Azhar, the leading Sunni institution of higher learning, ruled that the bride is not obligated to contribute any marriage costs.

If approved by parliament, the bill would offer men and women who want to get married $3,400 each in loans free of interest. Those who take out the loan would be required to pay $22.70 a month for 12.5 years. If both the bride and groom apply for the loan, that cost is doubled.

“Repaying the loan will not be a big problem for newlyweds,” Selim said.

Parliament’s Youth and Sports Committee has approved the bill and referred it to a legislative revision committee before it would go to the general session for final approval.

Selim said he is confident the bill will be enacted. He said everybody in the legislature agrees on the need for state institutions to play a role in helping men and women get married, especially considering rising housing prices and marriage requirements.

While the interest-free loans are welcome, they will not solve the wider problem, sociologists warned.

“Unemployment and low salaries are the main problems,” said Nadia Radwan, a sociology professor at Port Said University. “How will unemployed couples repay the loans?”

A dearth of jobs means that many women have limited access to work. They made up 23.1% of the employed workforce in the government and the private

sectors in 2017, according to a World Bank report.

For the average Egyptian couple, $46 per month is a major outlay. For Mohamed Hassan, it is beyond his means.

Low salaries are also a major problem and this problem only gets worse when compared to rising commodity prices.

“Those who do not have jobs cannot repay the loans they will get to get married,” Radwan said. “Those working will also find it difficult to repay the loans because of their low salaries, which is why we need another approach for solving the problem.”

21